Aren smiled and pulled her jacket closer as she stepped out into the brisk early morning. It was still very dark on this chilly Saturday morning, but she moved without fear into the inky-black of the front yard, and out the pasture gate. Moving almost without noise, she walked toward the woods beyond the pasture fence, making her way past briars and small trees. The woods were darker than anything else; she could just barely see her hand. And that's with good night-eyes, she thought. She checked her watch; 6:30. That gave her plenty of time before anyone got up, to do…whatever she wanted, really. She liked to wander and think. It was just so nice to think quietly, out here in the fresh air.

Something shiny glinted in her peripheral vision. She pushed back a strand of her wavy, chocolate-brown hair; blinking again to make sure she wasn't just seeing things. Walking slowly and carefully, she then stopped, and peered through the thick underbrush to see whatever it was. Her dark green eyes widened; it was a small, bright, light-blue jewel. She reached out a pale hand to touch it. And that's when everything changed. In a whirl of light and color, she disappeared.

She opened her eyes amidst a wonderfully green, light-filled forest, so unlike the one she had left not….had it been moments? Aren shook her head a little. Well, this was a beautiful place, so she was going to enjoy while she was here...wherever she was. She stood up and began to explore the clearing where she had come to be. It was quite warm here; she took off her jacket and kept going. She found all sorts of flowers and trees she knew she wouldn't find in her backyard, small purple daisy-like flowers that fit on the tip of her finger; huge trees she figured were about 90 feet tall, or somewhere close; and her favorite, a large climbing vine that had tiny yellow roses on it. They smelled like…. She couldn't decide between honey and syrup. It's a nice place to be dumped by a magic crystal, she decided. That reminded her, and she went back to where she had started, patting down the grass to find the jewel.

"Looking for this?" a masculine voice asked.

She jumped violently, and whirled to see a dark figure standing at the edge of the clearing, bouncing something in its hand.

"W-who are you?" she asked. The figure moved further into the clearing; Aren scooted back a bit from where she was on the ground. She couldn't see his features because he had a cowl hiding his face, but she could see a very large sword at his side. She didn't know if she should trust anyone right now, and she wasn't taking chances. He stopped approaching, possibly sensing Aren's discomfort. "It's alright, I won't bite. My name's Connor. How'd you end up all the way out here?" She bit her lip; she didn't know whether to respond or run. "What's your name?" She struggled with herself for a minute, and then said, "My name is Aren." Connor pulled off the hood, revealing tanned skin, an easy grin, and very blue eyes. His hair was dirty blonde and short. "Lost? You're an Outsider, I'd bet my sword." She blinked. Outsider? Sword? You have got to be kidding, she thought.

"I'm surprised you weren't eaten yet when I found you." Aren glanced at Connor; he seemed only partially kidding. She had decided to follow him, though she still didn't trust him at all. "Why? What's in here?" Aren asked, concern coloring her voice slightly. "Well, there are wolves, bears, and mountain cats, to name but a few." Connor frowned a second. "And dragons, but those are pretty rare these days." Aren sensed he was holding something back, but she didn't push. They walked in silence for a few minutes.

"What's this place called, anyway? Since I'm stuck here anyway." Aren was bursting to know everything, but she felt shy around most people, so she just asked the prominent questions. Connor grinned. "This, m'lady, is the Siveil Forest. Beautiful, is it not?" She smiled and nodded. They reached a narrow, rocky path that seemed to start down a mountain. "Are we high up-" Aren's foot slid on a loose rock, and she would've been eating dirt hadn't Connor caught her under her arms. He pulled her back up into a standing position; she blushed and stepped back, realizing how close they had been. "Thanks. I'll try and walk on my own feet next time." Connor smiled, and gestured her to continue. "To your interrupted question," he said, in a teasing voice, "We are quite high, on the side of Rune Mountain. Few venture this far up from Azareth, the city from which I come, but I gather you simply appeared?" She thought for a moment, twisting a strand of hair around her finger as she hiked. "Well, one minute I was walking in our woods, which I have to say aren't even close to this pretty, and then I touched that jewel you picked up. I'm not sure what happened."

He sighed. "Well, every few years, an Outsider like you appears for no reason, with no link to the other people except for the jewels. They tend to fade back into their own world after a while, though I know some that stayed and became citizens." He stopped for a second. "Even though you're not the first, you are certainly one of the prettiest ladies I've escorted to our fair Castle Thurland." Aren's face turned the color of a stoplight. "Er, thank you." They continued down the path, which eventually leveled out until they came to the edge of the forest. Aren caught her breath in amazement at the sight of the city. Even from this distance, the white city looked fairly large. The forest seemed to make a huge clearing for it, then continued into endless trees. "Pretty, isn't it? Azareth is where I grew up. We'll reach it in a few hours," Connor explained. They set out for the white city; Connor and Aren both lost in thought as they walked.